David Berg ’16: From the Farmhouse to the Racecourse

by Joe Clyne | 5/17/15 6:01pm

After nine months of riding a bike through rugged outdoor terrain, your average student would likely swear off cycling for good, content to pass through this life from the comfort of an automobile or as a simple pedestrian. David Berg ’16, though, is far from your average student.

Hailing from a small town in North Dakota with only about 100 residents, Berg is now the vice president of the Dartmouth cycling team, a club team that competes under the auspices of USA Cycling rather than the NCAA. In this, Berg’s third year of competitive cycling, he placed 24th in the Division II time trial while also competing in the road course and the criterium at this year’s cycling nationals held in Asheville, North Carolina, last weekend. His journey to reach this point is a unique one, even for a member of a team in which most members are new to the world of competitive cycling.

Berg comes from a farm on the outskirts of Starkweather, North Dakota, where he grew up with his parents, two older brothers and his younger sister. The Bergs grow small grains, as well as cattle and some horses on the family’s farm. While Berg grew up in this rural setting, he moved a few hours south to Fargo for his high school years.

“Really that step away from the farm and away from Starkweather really got me on a track toward Dartmouth,” Berg said. “Just having more opportunities in Fargo for extracurriculars [and] for academics was a big step toward me coming here for college.”

While the transition to Fargo was important and formative for Berg, it was not always easy.

“Fargo’s three hours from the farm, and it was a big adjustment,” Berg said. “I had never lived in a city. Granted, Fargo’s only, the metro area’s only 200,000 strong, but it was big for me at the time. I moved up from a class of eight people to a class of 40 people.”

Before Berg settled in with his grandparents in Fargo, he lived in an apartment with his older brother, Nathan, a student at North Dakota State University at the time.

“For the first three months of high school, I was living in a college apartment before we were able to work out a living situation with my grandparents, which was definitely better for a freshman in high school,” Berg said.

Berg’s first real exposure to cycling came after his time in high school when he and his two older brothers cycled from Alaska to Argentina to raise money for Habitat for Humanity. The trip, a brainchild of David’s older brother Isaiah Berg ’11, raised over $40,000 for the charity and allowed the Berg brothers to help build a house in North Dakota.

“[The trip] is definitely a big part of my story and cycling for me,” Berg said. “It was nine months long, and we biked 15,000 miles or so through nine countries. It was a terrific experience for the three of us, we bonded together, we saw a lot of cool things and we met really amazing people along the way.”

Along with the more comprehensible pleasures of the trip, Berg also came back from his year away from school with a newfound appreciation for cycling in general. In fact, by the time he got to Hanover, he was ready to join the College’s cycling program as well as the mountain biking club.

Like most of Dartmouth’s cyclists, Berg was a newcomer to competitive cycling when he joined the team in Hanover. Despite his inexperience, he quickly rose through the ranks, moving from novice status to the top class of college competition by his sophomore year. In each of the last two years, Berg has qualified for nationals for the Big Green. Dartmouth has won the Ivy League championships each of the last three years, and the team took the Eastern Conference championship during Berg’s sophomore year.

“We really take care of each other and care deeply about developing riders,” Berg said. “I’d say that a big reason for our recent success with Ivies and with Easterns has been how much emphasis we place on recruitment and on developing riders.”

Berg’s teammates recognize his contribution to that development and recruitment as well. The president of the cycling team, Dani Smith ’15, complimented Berg’s commitment to the team as a whole.

“He’s a fantastic guy to have around,” Smith said. “He’s willing to help out and to help everyone learn whether it’s about their bike, race strategy or anything else.”

One of the Big Green’s most successful outings of the season came here in Hanover at an event known as “L’Enfer du Nord,” French for “The Hell of the North.” Berg placed fourth in the men’s A category criterium and Max Jentzsch ’15 won the men’s B category criterium. The Big Green won the overall event on the strength of Berg and Jentzsch’s performances.

“[Berg] is now the fastest man on the team,” Jentzsch said. “He started three years ago in the lowest category and immediately started kicking butt.”

Berg’s performance at nationals capped a strong year for the Big Green cyclist this season, but there is more to Berg than just cycling skill. On campus, Berg is a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corps and will be pursuing a career in the military after graduation.

“I’m in ROTC as a cadet. I will be going to a summer course this summer with the army, and next year I will be commissioning as a second lieutenant in the Army,” Berg said. “I don’t know yet what branch I’ll be serving in, but I plan to work full time as an officer following graduation. It has been a big part of my life here and will be afterwards.”

Now that this year’s national championships have come and gone, the team can begin to shift its focus to next season. The road cycling season will continue for part of the summer until the general thrust of the cycling season shifts more toward mountain biking and cyclocross competitions over the course of the fall.

Going forward, Berg is looking to qualify for nationals next year as well, and he hopes to improve on his results from this past season. Furthermore, Berg is looking to push forward in the cyclocross category of competition. Though he qualified for nationals in cyclocross this season, he was unable to compete due to an academic conflict.

Berg also holds goals for continued success in the road racing area of competition.

“On the road next year, within the road discipline, I’m more of a sprinter,” Berg said. “I specialize in criteriums, specifically. In our conference, we have two leaders’ jerseys. In the Tour de France, you have the yellow, the green and the polka-dot jerseys. We have the yellow and the green, and I’d like to win that green jersey next year.”

On the journey from Starkweather to Alaska, from Argentina to Hanover, Berg has hit his share of potholes. But with more than 15,000 miles having passed under his wheels along the way, he’s learned how to patch a tire and to keep on rolling. Over the next year, it’s going to be exciting to see how just fast he can ride.

“He’s a really talented rider,” Jentzsch said. “But even though he’s the vice president and the fastest guy, he has never lost his compassion and his patience for everyone else.”